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Patton Oswalt is a hoot and 'Holler'

The Sunday Conversation: Writer-comedian Patton Oswalt stars in Adult Swim's Southern Gothic series 'The Heart, She Holler.'

September 21, 2013|By Irene Lacher
  • Patton Oswalt
Patton Oswalt (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Comedy writer and actor Patton Oswalt stars in "The Heart, She Holler," Adult Swim's surreal Southern Gothic series about the twisted and mercifully fictitious Heartshe clan, now in its second season of 11-minute episodes.

How would you describe "The Heart, She Holler" to someone who hasn't seen it?

Oh, boy. Imagine the most annoying Silver Lake hipster and what they think the Deep South must be. Then give them bath salts, have them describe the Deep South and have them write down and film whatever they say.

How did you get involved in this? Did you know the creators?

Yes, I'm a big fan of both the creators [Vernon Chatman and John Lee — the third creator is Alyson Levy]. They worked on "South Park" and worked on an amazing show for MTV called "Wonder Showzen" that I was a huge fan of. And then another show called "Xavier: Renegade Angel." So when they came to me with this show ... all they had was the family tree for the Heartshes. That's all it was. They said it was based on this book they liked called "Wisconsin Death Trip," which is also one of my favorite books, by Michael Lesy. And I was like, "That's all I need to hear. I'm in."

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Did your character already exist or did they write it for you?

They wrote it for me. Their only conception was he's a guy who's been raised behind a bricked-up wall, like a Kasper Hauser character, who has absolutely no idea what the outside world is. Then I have to come out and run a town.

Did you help shape your character?

I figured out his act, his kind of blankness. But if you pop the wig and teeth on, it's almost as if it shifts the shape of your skull, so you can only speak a certain way. That's definitely a huge help. I'm in an idiot vise the whole time.

Do you always understand what's going on?

I never understand what's going on. We shot the whole thing out of sequence, so each scene is so completely out of context. For me, it's great because my character lives his whole life out of context, so it definitely helps the performance to have scenes follow one another that aren't necessarily chronological. Even when I read the scripts, I don't understand how they're going to pull off the visuals until I see it.

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Are there any taboos?

No, I certainly haven't seen any. We've only shown two episodes as I'm talking to you, and we've covered cannibalism and suicide, incest, racism, fratricide, infanticide, abortion. I can't think of anything we haven't touched, and that's only two out of the 14.

Do you have any sense of the reaction to "The Heart, She Holler" from the parts of the country it lampoons?

I haven't really gotten any feedback yet. It's weird how the people that you think are going to be offended by something are always the last people offended by it. It's the people that want to get offended for other people. I remember when "Big Fan" came out, there was a review in the Village Voice that went after us for making fun of the crass Staten Island stereotypes. This was from a writer who I doubt has ever set foot on Staten Island, and everyone I've met from Staten Island says, "Yeah, that's exactly how it is." I'm never offended by Hollywood satires. I only get offended when they're not accurate, but when they go super far and dark, I'm like, "Yeah, that's kinda how it is."

Do you think that combining comedy with horror kicks up the edginess to the next level?

That's nothing new. Look at Monty Python films. Look at the Grand Guignol stuff. Comedy and horror — you're going for the same reaction, which is shock and surprise. They've always been linked from the very beginning. It's the old Mel Brooks phrase, which is, "Tragedy is I cut my finger, and comedy is you fall into an open sewer and die. "

Tell me about your character in the Christmas film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

I'm going to be mum about that right now.

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I did notice that your name is just hanging in midair on IMDB.

There it shall hang. You'll see.

Are you a fan of Mitty's creator, James Thurber?

Yeah, I'm a big Thurber fan. His personal history is so fascinating. A guy that's suffering blindness near the end of his life, yet he's writing all these satires about the emerging visual illusory stuff that was going on in America, especially in 1939, with Walter Mitty. Seeing how movies were taking over America, he kinda prophesied the way we'd live on the Internet, the way we'd live our lives on television. He's a fascinating guy, a hilarious guy who was pretty miserable in real life.

Do you know a lot of people like that?

I bet there's the exact same ratio of miserable people in law or dentistry or construction. There are certainly a lot of people who are turning misery into comedy, but for every person I can point out to you and say, "This guy's miserable but really funny," I can also show you people who are upbeat and have had great childhoods and lives and are also super-funny. It's all random.


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